God & the Practical Gospel

How much does works count?

Adventist Review Editors

Question: How does God feel about the welfare of the stranger, the indigent, those on society’s economic margins?

Question: Has God spoken to such questions?

Question: Is it appropriate for a Christian to take sides with regard to issues of social justice?

Answer: God has not left these questions to chance: we may know quite clearly where He stands:

Ex. 23:9: “Do not oppress a foreigner; . . . because you were foreigners in Egypt.”*

Lev. 23:22: “When you reap . . . , do not reap to the very edges of your field. . . . Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you.”

Lev. 25:23: “The land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners.”

Ex. 20:10: re the Sabbath of the Lord: On it no one works—neither you, nor your family, servants, animals, “nor any foreigner residing in your towns.”

Ex. 23:12: “. . . so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.”

Sigve K. Tonstad, The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day, p. 126: “Freedom from work and from the yoke of exploitation are explicit characteristics of the Sabbath.”

p. 127: “The Old Testament concern for social justice does not stop at the Sabbath, but the seventh day must be seen as the generating principle giving rise to other markers that are similarly bent on providing rest . . . and relief.”

Deut. 10:17, 18: “[The Lord your God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”

Jean Calvin: “God distinguishes Himself from men, who are carried away by outward appearance, to hold the rich in honor, and the poor in contempt; to favor the beautiful or the eloquent, and to despise the unseemly.”

“As regards strangers, God proves that He cares for them, because He is gracious in preserving them and clothing them; and then a special reason is again adduced, that the Israelites, when they were formerly sojourners in Egypt, had need of the compassion of others.”

Deut. 14:28, 29: “Every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites [otherwise destitute]
. . . and the  foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you.”

Isa. 56:1: “The Lord says: ‘Maintain justiceand do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.’”

Jean Calvin: “Under the names ‘judgment’ and ‘righteousness,’ He includes all the duties which men owe to each other, and which consist not only in abstaining from doing wrong, but also in rendering assistance to our neighbors.”

“This is the sum of the second table of the Law, in keeping which we give proof of our piety, if we have any.”

Deut. 16:10-12: “Celebrate the Festival of Weeks . . . by giving a freewill offering. . . .And rejoice before the Lord your God [with your kids, servants, otherwise destitute Levites, orphans, single women] . . . and the foreigners . . . living among you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.”

Isa. 58:6, 7: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them.”

Jean Calvin: “Hypocrites, we know, always raise a clamor . . . ; ‘What! Have we then lost all our labor, while endeavoring to worship God? Is all this to go for nothing? . . .’ The Prophet here shortly answers—that if only they brought forth true righteousness, their course would be free.”

“[The Prophet] expresses this in the form of a promise, ‘Run down shall your righteousness as impetuous waters, provided it be true, and not an empty name.’ ”

Acts 10:38: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and . . . he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.”

Albert Barne’s Notes on the New Testament: “This is the simple but sublime record of his life. It gives us a distinct portrait of his character, as he is distinguished from conquerors and kings, from false prophets and from the mass of people.”

Acts 20:35:“I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Albert Barnes: “It is more blessed to give. It is a higher privilege; it tends more to the happiness of the individual and of the world. The giver is more blessed or happy than the receiver. This appears (1) because it is a condition for which we should be thankful when we are in a situation to promote the happiness of others; (2) because it tends to promote the happiness of the benefactor himself . . . (3) [because] it is blessed in the reward that shall result from it. Those who give from a pure motive, God will bless.” (Italics supplied.)

James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Jean Calvin: “[James] reminds us that religion without the things he mentions is nothing.”

Matt. 25:40 [45]: The King’s reply—“Truly I tell you, whatever you did [not do] for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did [not] do for me.”

*Bible texts are from the New International Version.

Adventist Review Editors